In the spirit of the Halloween season I thought I'd focus on something really scary. Something so terrifying that it stops people dead in their tracks; makes the hair on the back of their neck stand up; and causes widespread panic and hysteria. No, I'm not talking about a zombie apocalypse. I'm talking about something each of us deals with on some level everyday of our lives. Something that is in essence so simple, yet so feared that you would think it equal to the bubonic plague. That simple, scary, fearful thing is change.
Studies in the medical world show that only about one in 10 people will change their habits even if their life depends on the change. To put this into context I'll paraphrase some research:
Dr. Edward Miller, dean of the medical school and CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University, led an interesting talk on the topic of change in the mid-2000s. He opened discussions on the topic of patients whose heart disease is so severe they undergo bypass surgery, a traumatic and expensive procedure that can cost an individual more than $100,000 if complications arise. About 600,000 people have bypasses every year in the U.S., and 1.3 million heart patients have angioplasties - all at a total cost of around $30 billion. The procedures temporarily relieve pain but rarely prevent heart attacks or prolong lives. Many patients could avoid the return of pain and the need for repeat surgery, not to mention arrest the course of their disease before it kills them, by simply switching to a healthier lifestyle. But very few ever do. Miller states that if you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90 percent of them have not changed their lifestyle. Even though they know they have a very bad disease and they know they should change their lifestyle to slow the onset of death, for whatever reason, they don't.
The truth is, fear of change permeates every corner of our lives whether it be us who is afraid of change or someone else we interact with. On a broader level we see fear of change manifest itself all the time in businesses closing because they feared the need to adapt to a changing world marketplace, families filing for bankruptcy because they feared the need to adapt their personal finances to fit new standards, and even failed relationships because those involved feared to change simple things like their communication habits. On the other end we see fear of change not so much as a behavior but as a belief or perspective. We say things like, "it will never happen," or "it's impossible," and we even shoot down ideas without first thinking them through rationally.
Why is change so darn hard to accept? There are a lot of reasons. Sometimes it's a physical alteration of our brain chemistry. Sometimes it's a behavioral pattern that has become so familiar we'd rather stick with it than learn a new way of behaving. Oftentimes it is our mental framework surrounding our perspective of the change that, well, needs to be changed in order to accept change. Accepting change is possible. It takes the courage to take a step back and try and look at things from the outside in. It takes the humility to admit that maybe our perspective needs some updates. It also takes the understanding that what we have historically believed may not be present day reality.
There are a lot of changes that will be taking place in our community. Good changes such as positive movement toward a new economy, beneficial improvements to create a better quality of life, and new ideas to take Alpena to the next level. I'm talking about the rebranding of our community as The Sanctuary of the Great Lakes. It will be up to all of us to embrace and encourage this change in order to help Alpena reach its full potential. I alluded to this branding effort in a previous column and we will all be hearing more about it in the months to come. If we don't accept and encourage this change we won't be able to offer the quality of life our residents deserve or offer a future for our young people.
It is an exciting time to be a resident of this beautiful community. As The Weather Channel recently pointed out, we have a lot to offer ourselves and the rest of the world. All we need is the acceptance that we are beautiful and the collaboration to bring out our best. Will you embrace this change and help make Alpena shine?
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays.